Spotlight on Yachad Dayhab Without Walls

Yachad, meaning together in Hebrew, describes in a word what is unique about the Dayhab center and its umbrella organization Jewish Union Foundation. Founded twenty five years ago, it started as an attempt to integrate teens living with developmental disabilities into mainstream Jewish society through social and recreational activities. The program has now grown to serve children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. At the cornerstone of their work are the concepts of inclusion, and including the teaching of social skills to their participants. As National Director of the Jewish Union Foundation, Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman explains, while teaching socials skills is often neglected in developmentally disabled education, it is the most critical skill to learn in order to integrate into mainstream society.

Yachad Dayhab Without Walls in one of the programs within National Jewish Foundation. Program participants develop independent living and vocational skills through classes at the center as well as creative courses emphasizing self expression. When not at the center participants work and volunteer in the community at settings ranging from schools to pharmacies to beauty salons.

NY Writers Coalition’s relationship with the Yachad Dayhab began last May. Program participants had expressed an interest in writing so Vocational Coordinator Sara Cohen began searching for an appropriate course for them in the community. However, she found the physical limitations of some participants to be an issue because many sites were not wheelchair accessible. When NYWC offered to bring the workshop to them, it seemed like a perfect fit. Even though Yachad Dayhab prefers to get their program participants into the community as often as possible, having an exclusive writing workshop has proved beneficial in more ways one. As Director Jonathan Weiss explains, “The fact that you [NYWC] come here makes it not only physically possible for many of our members to participate, but also has created a very emotionally inviting space where they feel safe and free to explore and express themselves.”

By all accounts the workshop has been a great success. The writers and staff are enthusiastic and the notebooks are filling up quickly. But what really stands out in this workshop is the amount of respect the workshop participants, leader Judy Chicurel, and the staff all have for the writing. When it came time to share the writing, the voices gathered around the table fell silent as all eyes and ears turned their attention to the writing.